The U.S.-backed war on Yemen doesn’t have a lot of public defenders, so it is worth responding when someone does make an explicitly pro-war argument. Fatima Alasrar makes the unpersuasive case for continuing U.S. support for the Saudi coalition:
Furthermore, vital U.S. interests are at stake. The Houthis have repeatedly threatened to disrupt international shipping. Earlier this year, they made good on this promise by firing on a Saudi oil tanker and a Turkish freighter carrying wheat. The Houthi militias are a sworn enemy of the United States and a tool for expanding Tehran’s destabilizing influence throughout the Middle East.
All of this is false or misleading. Prior to the Saudi intervention, the Houthis mouthed anti-American slogans but posed no threat to the United States, and they were hostile to Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). If the Houthis are now a sworn enemy of the United States, it is because the U.S. has been aiding and abetting the war effort against them and the people of Yemen. There are no vital U.S. interests at stake in the conflict, and that has made the initial decision to back the coalition’s intervention impossible to justify. The Houthis are not Iranian proxies and do not act on Tehran’s orders. They are not Iran’s “tool” and have their own agenda focused on Yemen. The threat to shipping is wildly exaggerated and certainly not sufficient to justify enabling coalition war crimes.
Alasrar goes on to assert that backing the coalition has something to do with combating AQAP:
The war against Iran and the Houthis is also linked with the United States’ war on terror, which is supported by Congress, specifically the fight against al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), an organization that is based in Yemen and is widely considered to be the most dangerous of al-Qaeda’s remaining regional affiliates. For example, the Saudi-led coalition helped to build the elite anti-Houthi Southern Security Belt forces. These United Arab Emirates–trained Yemeni units have, alongside Emirati special forces, fought AQAP.
The Associated Press reporting on this issue makes it very clear that the coalition hasn’t been fighting AQAP at all, but has instead been buying them off and recruiting their members. Backing the coalition puts the U.S. on the same side with governments that are in league with AQAP. Alasrar is claiming that the U.S. needs to continue backing the governments in cahoots with Al Qaeda members in a war against a group that is opposed to Al Qaeda. There is no way that can serve U.S. interests. It very clearly damages and undermines them.
Alasrar makes another unpersuasive point:
In addition, the U.S. military plays a critical role in safeguarding Yemeni civilians by identifying nonmilitary and civilian facilities for the coalition so that these are not accidentally targeted by air strikes.
Whatever efforts the U.S. military has made to protect Yemeni civilians, they have not been successful. Civilian targets are still routinely hit by coalition airstrikes, and many are obviously targeted on purpose. Targeting advice doesn’t make anything better if it just makes the coalition pilots more accurate when they are blowing up markets and weddings. Iona Craig recently reported on a near-miss strike that targeted an innocent nomadic family, and she found that the coalition failed to follow the procedures it was supposedly using to avoid killing civilians:
The minute-by-minute account of a single airstrike provides a small yet detailed window into the Saudi-led bombing campaign in Yemen, showing how officers in charge of daily air raids are ignoring their own procedures aimed at minimizing civilian casualties. Specialists in international humanitarian law say the incident described in the document shows “clear violations” of the laws of war.
The U.N. has criticized the coalition for its deliberate targeting of sanitation and water infrastructure. MSF-supported clinics and treatment centers have been repeatedly bombed even after providing the coalition with the facilities’ coordinates on numerous occasions. The coalition has committed at least two wedding massacres in the last few months alone. Just last week, the coalition attacked the fish market and main public hospital in Hodeidah and killed dozens while wounding scores more. These are just a few of the thousands of attacks on civilian targets that the coalition has carried out. The coalition is still striking and killing large numbers of civilians with regularity, and U.S. military assistance appears to be doing nothing to change that. The conceit that halting U.S. support would lead to more civilian casualties ignores that U.S. assistance is critical to keeping the bombing campaign going.
U.S. support for the war on Yemen is indefensible, so it is not surprising that the case for U.S. policy is so weak and riddled with errors.